Bujumbura, 15 March 2013 – In late January the Jesuit Refugee Service has closed its project in Rwanda after 17 years of accompaniment of the nearly 40,000 refugees from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, bringing an end some of the oldest JRS projects in world.
Since 1996, JRS worked in two of three camps present in the country, Kiziba and Gihembe in western and northern Rwanda where teams worked closely with the refugee populations offering formal and informal education services, as well as pastoral, recreational and emergency activities.
The difficult decision to close projects in Rwanda was made to concentrate energy and resources on the thousands of significant needs of the hundreds of thousands of individuals in humanitarian emergencies throughout the Great Lakes region. Before JRS left the camps its crucial formal education work was handed over to another international NGO, ADRA, specialised in education.
Protracted refugee crisis. Refugees in Kiziba and Gihembe camps fled conflict in the eastern province of North Kivu in 1996. Ever since, they have lived in the camps, unable to return home due to on-going insecurity in the region. Thousands of children were born in the camps over the years. Of the more than 38,000 refugees who live in the camps, more than half are under 17 years of age.
"When we met the first refugees following their flight from Congo, we could see the fear and distress in their eyes. They had lost everything they owned. After so many years living in the camps, they still don't have any certainties about the future. They would like to go home, but they can't because the war still hasn't ended", said Mateo Aguirre SJ, JRS Great Lakes Africa Director who opened the projects in Rwanda in 1995.
Activities. The JRS projects, some of which were undertaken in cooperation with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) have benefited some 20,000 refugees per year, including all the children attending school in the two camps.
In 2012, for example, more than 10,000 children attended the nursery, primary and secondary schools. Over the years JRS has trained and chosen teachers to manage its schools, engaged in restoration and construction of crucial buildings, as well as the distribution of school materials and uniforms. The high pass rate in examinations taken by primary and secondary students in the camps is a testimony to the quality of teaching provided in the schools.
To assist young people in finding a job JRS organised various vocational training courses for electricians, chefs and IT workers. Teams also organised a range of sports and cultural activities, such as basketball and volleyball tournaments, film screenings and theatre performances.
JRS accompaniment takes place through the close contact staff have with refugees in delivering emergency food and material assistance to individuals in extremely vulnerable circumstances, such as older people, persons with disabilities and medical illnesses, orphans and widows. The pastoral programme offered refugees the opportunity to take part in religious services, also providing young refugees with an opportunity to receive Holy Communion and Confirmation.
Danilo Giannese, JRS Great Lakes Africa Advocacy and Communications Officer